The next World Baseball Classic is a year away although 16 countries face daunting qualifying tournaments this year for the final four spots. If you have not already guessed, yes, former American Association players are involved.
At least three American Association vets, two of whom recently signed with major league organizations, are on rosters for the initial four-team pool event which will be feature New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa and host Australia February 11-14.
First baseman Angelo Songco (pictured), who was drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009 and put on a major show of power with St. Paul the last two seasons before the National League team purchased him, will be with the Philippines while Saints teammate Anthony Phillips will play for his native country of South Africa. The shortstop was sold to the Los Angeles Angels in January.
Right-handed pitcher Ryan Searle, currently a free agent and a fulltime starter at Grand Prairie two years ago (5-9, 4.39), is with Australia.
Songco could easily be a difference-maker after improving his batting average by 70 points to .339 at St. Paul last season without letting his power suffer. The left-handed batsman homered 17 times in ’15 (he had 16 the year before) and improved his RBI production to 82 in 96 games. Phillips went .269-2-35 in 91 contests for the Saints.
Bencomo Now in Caribbean Series
Another American Association player picked up by a major league organization recently, has had his winter league season extended to play in the prestigious Caribbean Series, which started Monday.
Righty Omar Bencomo, now in the Minnesota farm system, is part of a 15-man Venezuelan pitching staff after a strong regular winter league season when he had the seventh best earned run average (2.58) and ranked second in innings (69.2) while compiling a 5-3 record. Bencomo, who turns 27 on February 10, was a combined 6-1, 3.19 for Wichita and Laredo last season before signing with the Twins in August.
Previously the chief spokesman for Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site as well as writing his own blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.